Setting priorities for preprints and open science
Newly appointed member of the ASAPbio Board of Directors, EMBL Group Leader Gautam Dey speaks about preprints, data management, and open science.
By Victoria Yan, Open Science & Research Information Officer
EMBL Group Leader Gautam Dey has recently been appointed as a new member of ASAPbio‘s Board of Directors. ASAPbio is a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing transparency and innovation in life science communication.
We spoke with Dey about his goals as a new member of the ASAPbio board and his perspective on the role of scientists and EMBL in promoting Open Science for the wider research community.
When and how did you begin engaging with the discussion around preprints as a researcher?
I first joined the ASAPbio community a few years ago as a Community Ambassador, and later as a member of the inaugural cohort of their fellowship program – this was all during my postdoc at University College London. Around the same time, I joined the preprint review and discussion forum preLights. During the first phase of the COVID pandemic, I worked with a group drawn from the ASAPbio/preLights communities to study the access and usage rates of COVID-19 preprints. Following that, I was invited to join a working group to develop the FAST Principles for preprint review, a set of cultural norms to foster constructive feedback on preprints.
We have seen a rise in the adoption of preprints over the last five years. Have preprints become the new norm?
In some communities, it certainly has. But there is also a danger of being misled by pervasive behaviour change within the bubbles that we inhabit. While some research organisations like EMBL strongly promote preprints or even require all publications to be posted as preprints, this is not yet the norm for life science institutes. We have seen significant efforts on these fronts from funding agencies, which hasn’t necessarily translated into policy changes at the institutional level. We’re considering strategies at ASAPbio to work more extensively with the Open Science and library staff at life science research organisations, with the goal of reducing the gap in preprint adoption between various communities.
In line with this, what do you see as the next steps for preprints?
We want to encourage research organisations to recognise preprints in recruitment and adopt preprints as a standard part of their publishing workflows. On a longer timescale, developing and strengthening the ecosystem for preprint peer review will be critical. The preprint and publishing communities need to develop broadly accepted criteria for peer review standards in an era of post-publication peer review. ASAPbio is bringing together various stakeholders, including researchers, publishers, and funding agencies at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus in early December to discuss these criteria and policies to support the recognition of preprint review. We are keenly interested in innovations in this space. The ASAPbio board has additional important priorities, for example, working to promote preprints and transparent peer review outside of the research communities in Europe and North America, where we have made the most headway.
How can we better support individual researchers to make their research data publicly available?
Field-specific training can be very helpful. In genomic research, for example, metadata standards and repositories are widely used and globally recognised. For microscopy, on the other hand, the infrastructure is still very much in its infancy, although initiatives like the BioImage Archive (BIA), which stores and distributes biological images that are useful to life sciences researchers, are a step in the right direction. For new trainees, it’s difficult to see the immediate benefit of data management. Hopefully, this is something we can address with courses tailored to specific data types and classes directly relevant to trainees’ research. Clear guidelines on minimum expected behaviour from the research institute are very important. This information needs to be communicated to the research staff and regularly refreshed, and should ideally be translated into policies at the level of individual labs.
EMBL has recently adopted its Open Science Policy. How will our policies and practices interact with the wider research ecosystem?
EMBL is well-positioned to take on a leading role for open science and transparent research assessment. As EMBL researchers move on to their next research institutions, they will carry their open science research culture and habits with them. This new way of doing science could become the default – instinctively more transparent and open.